The Iliad (Stephen Mitchell translation) by Homer ****

25 November 2020 | ,

Reading dates: around 18 May – 24 November 2o2o

Neil and I read this aloud to each other in preparation for reading Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, which I have been wanting to read for some time.

I have found out that classics are classics for a reason. They are perennial, relevant throughout the times, and contain teachings we need to hear time and time again. The Iliad is most definitely a classic and Stephen Mitchell’s translation is, as ever, sensitive poetic and vigorous. The teachings here, I think, are about accepting fate, surrendering to what is inevitable and mourning with care and grace.

The plot drops you in the middle of the action, when Achilles and Agamemnon have a fight over Briseis, and recounts the war between Argives and Trojans, or at least part of it. The most interesting thing is that The Iliad does not tell the story of the Trojan horse, as I thought it would. Shows you you need to read the classics for yourself and not go on popular beliefs.

Like The Mahabharata, the actual war is intense, but not uninteresting. There are millions of characters with unpronounceable names but once you get used to that, it is effortless to read. Above all I love the gods, their politics, their quibbles … Neil told me that around the bronze age people started seeing their inner voice as the voice of consciousness, rather than the voice of the gods. He recommended this article:

Jaynes spends the most time talking about the Iliad, with good reason – it’s the longest Bronze Age work we have, and in many ways it’s a psychodrama, focusing as much on the characters of Achilles, Hector, etc as the plot itself.
Jaynes claims Bronze Agers heard gods literally all the time, as a substitute for individual thought.

I still like the idea that the voice we hear inside ourselves is that of Zeus, or Hera. Let us see if I can speak to them that way.

 


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